by Barbara Berkeley, MD
Odysseus, the wandering protagonist of Homer’s Odyssey, had a healthy fear of temptation. In Greek mythology, sailors were regularly lured to their deaths by Sirens, creatures who sang a beautiful and irresistible song. Entranced by the song, these sailors steered toward the call and were dashed to pieces on the rocks.
In order to avoid this fate, Odysseus ordered his crew to plug their ears with beeswax and to tie him firmly to the ship's mast. On hearing the Sirens' song, Odysseus himself could not resist and begged to be untied, but since he had instructed his crew to ignore him, they refused his pleas. Thus, the ship was able to sail safely past danger; but only because Odysseus was smart enough not to underestimate the power of temptation.
The Odysseus story is mentioned in a recent article that detailed the effectiveness of offering restaurant-goers the choice of smaller servings. I loved the analogy.
Negotiating the modern food world so often seems like sailing through Siren filled waters. The call of the brownie is so sweet, the bowl of M & Ms looks so jolly, the Ben and Jerry’s packaging is so alluring…and that fresh baked bread? It’s the staff of life, isn't it?
Until we crash into the rocks.
As our doctor reveals that our fasting blood sugar is now above 100 and pulls out the prescription pad to treat our rising blood pressure and refill our Lipitor, we may suddenly realize that we’ve been had. Lured like bugs on sweet sticky-paper, devoured by the fragrance of the Venus fly-trap…
The work of maintenance, the life work of maintaining, is to learn to navigate these waters and, to some degree, to discover how to bind ourselves to the mast. Temptation will always surround us and we need to find a way to deafen ourselves to the call. But how? Perhaps you will add your own perspectives, but these are some of the ways I have found to be effective:
- Temptations lose potency when they are not reinforced. For this reason, I advise most people to practice avoidance of trigger foods and to do this as completely as possible. Don’t make exceptions for birthdays, retirement dinners and cruises. The more you exclude triggers, the less power they will have over you.
- Reduce exposure to the Sirens by avoiding the places where they live. Don’t detour unneccessarily into the cookie aisle or start a long conversation with a friend in front of the bakery window. Avoid restaurants where the main thrust of the menu is food you can’t eat.
- Ban the Sirens from your presence. Do this by not inviting them into your home, by asking that they be taken off desks that adjoin yours at work or removed from plain sight in break rooms.
- Finally, tell your crew not to listen to your pleas. Make it clear to friends and relatives that you simply don’t eat certain foods. They will be embarrassed to serve them to you and you will be embarrassed to ask for them in their presence. Enlist those who are close to you in supporting your goals. If you plead for cake, make sure that your allies remind you that you'd really rather not.
How do you avoid being dashed on the rocks? Send me your strategies.
If you are interested in weight loss, and more importantly--the long term maintenance of healthy weight, I invite you to browse our archives. I also write about weight issues on Facebook at Refuse to Regain:Barbara's World. For a more detailed view of what I've learned in over 20 years as a practicing obesity specialist, I hope you'll read my book, Refuse to Regain. A direct link to the book is found on the upper right corner of this page.
Barbara Berkeley, MD